Former South Africa President Nelson Mandela poses with South Africa Rugby Union coach Jake White and the Webb-Ellis cup, during the Springboks visit to Nelson Mandela at his residence in 2007 in Johannesburg.

Former South Africa President Nelson Mandela poses with South Africa Rugby Union coach Jake White and the Webb-Ellis cup, during the Springboks visit to Nelson Mandela at his residence in 2007 in Johannesburg.

Nelson Mandela had a "massive aura", "walked the walk", "no one in the world can rival him" for the way he changed the world and "inspired the Rainbow Nation".

Former South African Springboks rugby union coach Jake White led tributes for one of the most respected and admired figures in the world following Mandela's death, announced by President Jacob Zuma on Friday morning.

Former President and anti-apartheid leader Mandela was 95.

Mandela was the first black South African to hold office, serving from 1994-1999 and spent 27 years in prison before an international campaign for his release in 1990.

He used rugby union and the 1995 World Cup in South Africa to help break down the barriers between cultures in a country which was divided by race.

White was the Springboks coach from 2004-2007 and visited Mandela after the team's World Cup triumph in 2007.

Mandela spent 27 years in jail, but when he was released he used his profile to encourage peace instead of friction.

White was the ACT Brumbies coach until the end of the 2013 Super Rugby season and when his team was in Cape Town in March some of the players visited Mandela's prison cell on Robben Island.

When the Brumbies played the Bulls in the semi-finals, White went to the Pretoria hospital where Mandela was being treated, but the president was too unwell for visitors.

"The one thing about South Africans, it doesn't matter if they're Zulu, Xhosa, whites, Afrikaans, English or coloured … I've never found anyone that doesn't respect Mandela," White said.

"The aura, the presence, the ability to be humble. You never, ever, ever, ever, ever hear a bad thing about him. He never says the wrong thing.

"It's incredible … he changed the world. He inspired the Rainbow Nation.

"In a country like ours where there's so much diversity and so much cultural change and emotion, it's highly unlikely you get a leader like Mandela.

"No leader in South Africa has had the same backing and respect that Mandela has. His affect has gone worldwide.

"I was in the stadium in 1995, I sat in the stands and watched the public chant his name … I never thought that would happen in my lifetime."

White described Mandela's work with the 1995 rugby World Cup as a "Hollywood story" and the movie Invictus is based on Mandela's influence.

When White was Springboks coach, he invited Mandela to the 2007 World Cup final triumph, but Mandela declined because of illness.

Instead, he sent an inspirational video to the players which White showed in his pre-game meeting to help lift the Springboks to victory.

Prior to Mandela's influence, rugby was viewed as a sport for white South Africans.

But Mandela changed the perception and the sport was one the tools he used to bring South Africans together from different backgrounds.

White has three favourite memories of Mandela:

  • Mandela's video to the 2007 World Cup Springboks. "I invited him to come, but he said he was sick. Knowing him I know he said that so he didn't take the thunder away from the incumbent President. I've got no doubt the video he sent was a source of inspirations for the players.
  • Seeing him at a Springboks game against the Wallabies in 2005. Mandela's golf cart blocked the Australians from getting into their changerooms. "I looked at their faces and they were trying to get passed and trying to listen to the message he was passing on. It was a wonderful thing to witness."
  • Visiting Mandela after the 2007 World Cup triumph. "It was the first time I realised how old he was. He asked my why [1995 captain] Francois Pinear wasn't playing. Then he referred to me as the captain. I know Zelda who looks after him and she used to call him 'kulu' which means big man or big boss."

"People have always said what are the highlights of my life and rugby is up there, but meeting [Mandela] and having the honour of spending time with him, learning from … he's by far the most humble person I've ever met," White said.

"Forgiveness wise, a guy who has been through that and been in jail for 27 years, no one would do the walk like he does.

"Rugby has changed our country. You have to compliment Mandela for that, he was bright enough to work that out. He could have turned his back, but he showed leadership and forgiveness.

"He walked out [at the 1995 World Cup] in the Springboks jersey and that sums up who he was, he touched the emotions of South Africans. He embraced everybody."